ZILLAH — Inside the home of Maggie and Eugene Dawson, routines continue as usual. Maggie helps the kids get ready for school most mornings, and Eugene pitches in when he’s not working long hours at the Hanford Nuclear Reservation.
Outside, what was familiar is changing almost daily. Within a huge hole to the north of their blue house at the end of a cul-de-sac, an addition is taking shape.
The vision of a Yakima architect who donated his design services is becoming reality thanks to a Selah contractor who is contributing his labor. Ron Pelson, an owner of Traditional Designs Inc., and Carlos Lopez, owner of Apple Valley Home Builders, felt strongly about helping make more room for the Dawsons and their two children, who welcomed several young relatives into their home after an almost unimaginable tragedy.
“We got the foundation poured. ... That was a huge phase to get done. It’s all poured and we’re hoping to get framing on it soon enough,” Lopez said Tuesday.
Maggie and Eugene and their children, 2-year-old Delilah and 10-year-old Eugene “Polo” Dawson IV, share their three-bedroom home with 18-year-old Jesus Alejandre and his siblings: America, 17; Jaime, 15; Esperanza, 12; Victoria, 8; and 3-year-old Valeria.
On June 1, 2017, their father, Jaime Munguia Alejandre, killed their mother, Maria Gonzalez-Castillo, at their home outside Granger. A jury found Alejandre guilty in December 2018 of second-degree murder and unlawfully disposing of a body. He is serving a 271∕2-year prison term.
Two days after their mother’s death, all eight of the couple’s children moved in with Maggie and Eugene, their aunt and uncle; Maggie is Jaime Munguia Alejandre’s sister. The couple did not want them separated and got legal custody of the seven youngest Alejandre children in September 2017. Since then, the oldest of the seven has moved elsewhere.
The children are thriving in their care. Eugene and Maggie share a deep faith and trust that all will work out, which they stressed in a story in the Yakima Herald-Republic on July 21.
Lopez saw the article and almost immediately decided to add another project to his already crowded plate. He got in touch with Maggie the next day. After some planning, he broke ground a few weeks ago.
“I didn’t even hesitate. We could at least do something for them,” Lopez said. “I think this is a must for them. We really need to come together as a community and make this happen.
“It’s just doing right for the kids,” he added.
Many Yakima Valley residents have stepped up to support the children, and still do. The Dawsons are appreciative of all the help they and the children have received, and would welcome any additional assistance. The couple created a GoFundMe account for donations for the addition. Those donations have paid for necessary permits to get the project off the ground and related costs.
Along with Lopez donating the construction labor, Ray’s Plumbing has committed to donating all plumbing labor. And while financial contributions are always welcome, “what we need are materials — pretty much whatever goes into a building,” Lopez said. “Drywall, insulation, lumber.”
The lower level of the addition, a daylight basement, will include two bedrooms and one full bath. The upper level will feature a great room attached to the house.
“Once we get all the materials, it will be about 90 days till we’re done, as long as it doesn’t snow,” Lopez said. “Ideally we’ll finish up early spring.”
A native of California, Lopez moved to the Yakima Valley about 20 years ago. He’s worked in construction here around 18 years. He mostly builds speculative or “spec” homes, he said, along with occasional custom residences. When he’s not working, Lopez spends time with his wife and four children.
His current projects include a house in West Valley, one in Gleed and four in Zillah.
“We just get up at 4:30 and work till dark,” he said. “Whenever I have a little bit of time, we pull off and come to this.”
That has included some Sundays. Lopez even came on Veterans Day, which was Esperanza’s 12th birthday. That’s also a special day for the Dawsons because Eugene is an Army veteran.
As Lopez and his employees worked at the Dawson home recently, Eugene was enjoying a day off. He works a lot of overtime, as much as he can, as a nuclear security officer at the Columbia Generating Station on the Hanford site.
“It’s all God, you know,” he said as Delilah and Valeria ran circles through the house in a giddy parade that stopped only when he played favorite videos on YouTube.
Clad in an apron, Maggie looked on fondly as she took a break from making lunch.
“I’m pretty speechless,” she said of Lopez and his employees’ efforts. “I prayed enough — God will answer the prayers.”
Lopez feels strongly about helping them. It’s not a big project for him, but it’s important.
“This is going to make it much better for them,” he said.